Industrial Software – What It Should Look Like
You can’t judge a book by its cover? Think again. Presentation is just as important as the content inside. It might be time to update your user interface.
What if iPhone X were sent folded in ugly ruined boxes? Would customer satisfaction and loyalty be the same? Whoever says, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is usually wrong (or at least not completely correct).
The same is true for industrial software interfaces. When a company develops industrial software, the interface not only determines how the user will interact with the system, but also reflects on the image of the system integrator.
When you think of industrial software for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems or human-machine interfaces (HMIs), for example, you usually think about tanks and pipes drawn in gray, green and red engines and valves, a lot of analog values shown in a single page, and 3D buttons and switches. Though this is the way that industrial software has evolved from the first applications, this kind of user interface is no longer very appealing to users. Worse, it’s boring and not intuitive for the new young users.
Why shouldn’t users be able to operate machines using a smartphone, smartwatch or tablet, or at least a modern interface on a PC? We are not very far from widely using virtual and augmented reality on the shop floor. In some plants, these types of solutions are already being implemented side by side with old-style SCADAs. System integrators must adapt their products to users’ expectations while also leading customers toward new trends, teaching them new philosophies and preparing them for what’s coming next.
If you want to start restyling your apps, consider first that the most updated interfaces you can find are on websites or smartphone apps. Studying them is typically a good starting point when you start to develop a new industrial app. It’s not because you need to follow fancy trends, but because trends in websites and apps often determine pretty quickly user expectation. For example, consider where menus and navigation bars are placed and how they are structured because that will be the first thing a user will interact with in any application.
A good exercise to practice and experience the impact of changing style is taking an existing, old-looking industrial application and try to imagine it as a web application. Reconsider where you would expect to find each function, how you would expect to navigate through it, how data and information would be presented, etc.
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